Authors Between the Covers

May 1episode

Daniel Brook Takes Us Back to the Future


“Every month, 5 million people move from the past to the future,” writes Daniel Brook, author of the 2013 tome, “A History of Future Cities.”

“Pouring into developing-world ‘instant cities’ like Dubai and Shenzhen, these urban newcomers confront a modern world cobbled together from fragments of a West they have never seen,” he explains, asking: “Do these fantastical boomtowns, where blueprints spring to life overnight on virgin land, represent the dawning of a brave new world? Or is their vaunted newness a mirage?”

In a captivating blend of history and reporting, the journalist — whose work has appeared in Harper’s, The Nation, Foreign Policy, and Slate — travels to a series of major metropolitan hubs that were once themselves instant cities: St. Petersburg, Shanghai, and Mumbai.

The goal, he says, was to step back and watch their “dress rehearsals for the 21 century” — and help readers do the same.

By juxtaposing the stories of the architects and authoritarians, the artists and revolutionaries who seized the reins to transform each of these precociously modern places into avatars of the global future, Brook demonstrates that the drive for modernization was initially conflated with wholesale Westernization.

In this podcast interview, Brook tells us:

  • What inspired him to write “A History of Future Cities”
  • How a trip to St. Petersburg as a kid changed his life
  • How he selected the cities he wrote about
  • The most fascinating facts he discovered — that he didn’t expect to find
  • What he thinks the future of cities will be 50 years from today

Download the podcast now!

And click here to read all about “A History of Future Cities,” in the May 2015 issue of Be Inkandescent magazine.


Daniel Brook is a journalist whose work has appeared in publications including The New York Times Magazine, Harper’s, Slate, and The Nation. He is the author of The Trap: Selling Out to Stay Afloat in Winner-Take-All America.

His architecture writing won the 2010 Winterhouse Award for Design Writing and Criticism.

To research “A History of Future Cities,” Brook lived for a month each in St. Petersburg, Shanghai, Mumbai, and Dubai and conducted archival research on a semester-long fellowship at the Library of Congress. Originally from New York and educated at Yale University, Brook lives in New Orleans.

Learn more at daniel-brook.com.

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